Saturday, September 12, 2009

Criss Cross - 2006

I finished this book over four months ago, but life (in the form of my husband’s bleeding ulcer, and then taking over teaching a children’s literature class for a professor who became ill) intervened. I’ve finally had a chance to catch up.

I LOVED this book! Author Lynne Rae Perkins is only a year older than I am, and this book mirrors her (and my) adolescence. Described in a discussion guide as “a companion novel to the award-winning All Alone in the Universe, Debbie is fourteen...;” she, the main character, is also described as being 13 and the year being 1969 in All Alone, so Criss Cross must be set in 1970. ”Words of Love,” the Mamas and the Papas song that Hector is listening to on pages 105-106 of the hardbound edition, came out in November 1966, and would still be getting airplay in 1970. However, much of what happens in the book has that timeless quality that makes it possible for anyone to relate to it.

The title comes from a fictional music and comedy radio show Debbie and her friends Lenny, Hector, Patty, and Phil listen to on Saturdays. It’s also reflective of the criss-crossing (but not always intersecting) activities and relationships of the characters in the book. I loved the illustration near the title page of “the spectrum of connectedness,” showing dots for “people move back and forth in this area like molecules in steam,” the area being that between 0% and 100% connectedness, both of which say “no one is here—no one.”

The book is very humorous, in a subtle way. Chapter 8, called “Easy Basin Wrench, or Debbie Has a Mechanical Moment, Too,” is one of my favorites, with Debbie reading aloud to her father the instructions for a basin wrench, which were obviously not originally written in English. There’s a funny scene in chapter 16 where Debbie plays one of those games with the letters in the names of herself and the jock she has a crush on, trying to see what permutations bring up the result (married!) she’s looking for. There’s even a clever reference to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (quoted from at the beginning of the book), with an illustration of Debbie’s crush as a donkey (page 140 in the hardbound edition).

I thought the writing was wonderful, conjuring up images and memories based on the words alone. This book is definitely character-driven rather than plot-driven, and that may make it hard for many of today’s vampire-loving teens to relate to it. Despite interesting male characters, I see this book appealing more to introspective girls, ages 14 and up.

I loved Broadway actress Danielle Ferland’s reading of this book, and I can’t understand why others have disliked it so much. I felt she used great expression in the reading and in coming up with some variations in voices for the characters, often sounding like a sarcastic or bored or self-conscious teen herself. I had no trouble following the haiku (which I thought was wonderful!) in chapter 14, nor the conversation between Debbie and Patty in chapter 10 (where, I note in the print version, the author quits using initials to designate who is speaking partway through the conversation – thereby, in my opinion, emphasizing the universality of such “girl-talk.”). However, I have to agree with Sandy D that the numerous illustrations (black-and-white photographs, pen-and-ink drawings, or a mixture of those media) in the print versions add a LOT to this book, probably making it more accessible to the target audience.

According to a January 24, 2006, report on NPR, Criss Cross was praised by the Newbery Committee chair as "an orderly, innovative, and risk-taking book in which nothing happens and everything happens." In a USA Today article the day before, Perkins said she “was inspired by her own adolescence as a ‘late bloomer’ who needed reassurance that ‘life doesn't always happen like it does in movies and books, but that's OK.’"

While the audiobook and hardbound edition I used for this review have the same cover illustration as those shown in Sandy’s and other reviews of this book on this blog so far, I decided to use the paperback cover in this post because I really like it – that could be me at 14.

[A variation of this post appears on my blog, Bookin' It.]


Karen B said...

This is one of the Newbery winners that I knew nothing about. Now I can't wait to read it. Thanks!

Sandy D. said...

Oooh, I like the paperback cover, too (and your review!).

Valerie said...

Your review intrigued me, so I went and found this at my local library. Right now I'm about 200 pages in. I found that a lot of the book seemed like it was setting the stage for the action of the book, but then it went on and on that way, until eventually I realized that this *is* the action of the book; it's not setting the stage for something else to happen. And that's okay, I'm enjoying it. And actually things do happen, in their quiet dreamy way. It turns out that I am enjoying this book quite a bit. Thanks for posting your review of it -- it got me to read it too.

Valerie said...

Oh-- One thing that I am particularly liking about this book is how it treats every single character with respect. None of them are caricatures -- the stupid jock, the smelly old lady, anybody you run across are always real people who are treated with respect and who have interesting thoughts to read about. The stupid jock thinks. The old lady is really sweet and needs (and gets) help from one of the teens. I really like that a lot.

Sandy D. said...

Valerie, I really noticed your second point, too. I think it's one reason I ended up liking the book so very much. :-)